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At the weekend my flatmate bought the film ‘Blue Crush’, a film about surfing, in preparation for her very own surfing holiday. She has never been surfing before and honestly believed this film would provide her with some handy tips on how to be the ultimate surfer babe. Plus, we simply love teen flicks... Its subtitle is ‘Three friends. One passion. No limits.” which I thought pretty nondescript, since it implies that there are three friends and they surf (the passion) and that is all there is to it. Surely there must be a plotline? It stars a very radiant-looking Kate Bosworth as the main character Anne Marie who certainly manages to fill her bikini well, and also features Matthew Davis as football player and love interest Matt, Michelle Rodriguez and Sanoe Lake as her roomies, best friends and fellow surfers Eden and Lena and finally Mika Boorem as Penny, Anne Maries rebellious sister. Anne Marie dropped out of high-school in favour of following her dream to become a surfer chick extra-ordinaire. After their mother left (not sure why), she was left holding the baby, as it were, or rather her little sister. Her main goal is to take part in the Pipe Masters surfing championship. Now, when a wave curls up on itself it forms a pipe that you can then surf through. It’s dangerous and difficult, and in fact Anne Marie, who has always been a promising surfer and even holds the Junior title, had an accident three years ago at the very same event where she banged her head on a large rock in the water. She trains hard for it, but fearing that the accident may happen again, she feels a bit uneasy about it. The three girls work as chambermaids at a luxury hotel, but Anne Marie manages to get fired. Now she has to resort to offering ‘private surfing lessons’ to football quarterback Matt who offers her a lot of money for it. Enough to help her and the girls to make rent, at least. Well, within a day he is already quite good at it, so she goes back to his hotelroom to pick up the money and snog him. Yes, this IS an accurate description of the storyline. In all honesty I thought I had fallen asleep and missed something, or that they had mistakenly cut a large chunk of the film, because while this plot development in itself was not surprising, it came completely without warning. Maybe it’s his reward for doing so well? Maybe there was an implicit agreement somewhere in their contract? Anyway, afterwards she hangs out with him a lot (he is certainly getting his money’s worth I would say), but one of her friends (I wish I could remember which one, but I think it was Eden) keeps telling her off for sacrificing her dream. After all, Anne Marie is such a promising surfer and clearly destined for greatness, even if it’s only in surfing terms. Matt then buys Anne Marie a very nice dress to take her to a swanky party at the hotel. When in the toilet cubicle, surprise surprise, some random women come in to huddle up by the mirror and talk about how our Anne Marie is a nobody. Anne Marie then storms off, Matt following her of course, and she walks straight over to the beach and into the water (why, God, why?). There she tells him that she is not happy with their arrangement, and he says that he can’t make any promises and she should really take part in the surfing contest. So she does. Everybody turns up to root for her, even Matt. In the first heat she has a minor accident and, caring as he is, Matt then tells her to go out there again (after she told him that it’s so dangerous that people have died in the past). I don’t think it would be fair to reveal the end here, because I am sure that you all would LOVE to see this film for yourselves. Well, the location is very nice indeed, there are some nice surfer shots, the blue sea and the blue sky also feature heavily, but to be honest, it didn’t rock my world. Na-ah , not at all. `Blue Crush' is director John Stockwell's attempt at exploring the friendship and determination of three girls who have only each other. Instead, the plot simply doesn’t strike me as very convincing. Anne Marie’s friends haven’t got lives of their own, her little sister’s existence is pointless (in terms of merit to the film), and all characters are equally flat. Hawaii being the glamorous location that it is, we don’t really get to enjoy any of it because, well, it just doesn’t feature. There are nice shots of random people (and a dog – I kid you not) surfing, some waves and plenty of CGI. The end is not exactly surprising either, but by that time I didn’t really care too much anymore. About anything. You could have threatened to shoot me with a gun and I would have said: “Yes, please, shoot me. Shoot me now!”. The best thing about it was the soundtrack, featuring the Doves, NERD, Zero 7 and Lenny Kravitz. Nobody is particularly bad in it, it is just that the roles do not really demand a lot of talent. However, it does deserve one brownie point: My friend has learned that you a) dive underneath the waves to avoid being clobbered to death by your surfboard as it hits the top of a wave and b) you can even dive and use your board as a shield if you turn face-up before reappearing on the other side. For the guys out there: there are plenty of bikinis to go around and Kate Bosworth is exceedingly pretty. For the gals: well, there’s the surfing and Matt, the football star, is not too bad to look at either. Please don’t get me wrong: I enjoy films that haven’t got a hidden message, because I quite simply want to be entertained. I do not need films of books to ‘make me think’. However, the plotline is as thin and full of holes as “The Deep Blue Sea”, but without the sharks and more surfing. It did manage to get my friend e xcited about her holiday, and I have seen worse films. I guess it really depends on what floats your board (lol).
Ireland has just introduced a new law rendering smoking in the workplace illegal. This will have an effect on many industries, e.g. concert promoters, sports venues (ironic, isn’t it?) and of course pubs. So should smoking in all public places be banned? A very popular subject-matter at the moment, and everyone wants to have their say. And since this is dooyoo, I can. This, of course means, that while I am writing this, I won’t get interrupted by objections. So I will begin with dealing with a few objections first, so that you, the reader, will not have to remember them so you can throw them back at me, only to miss any important point I may raise (and I have high hopes on that front). I am a non-smoker who used to smoke. Does that make me a radical non-smoker? I don’t think so. There are indeed many subjects I get very passionate about, but in general smoking isn’t one of them. I also believe in constitutional rights (if Britain had a constitution, that is), such as freedom of speech and a the right to basically do what you like as long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s lives in a detrimental way. Next, I believe that smoking is bad for your health. So are many other things, such as eating burnt toast and running in front of a moving bus. Cigarettes, burnt toasts and running in front of buses per se I do not have a problem with. Cigarettes are quite harmless and do not kill anyone. Burnt toast will also not kill you and running in front of buses may be a pointless activity, but to my knowledge has never harmed anyone either. There is something that can turn them into harmful elements, though: SMOKING cigarettes, EATING burnt toast and running in front of a bus that is IN MOTION. What I am trying to get across is that these things alone are quite harmless. Thus, I am not anti-tobacco, have no problem with burnt toast and the only problem I have with buses is that they are always late. If you have any further objections or points to raise, please feel free to comment. I am not against smoking in public. I am completely against doing things that will infringe on my and others’ right to enjoy ourselves. I began smoking at the age of 16. I went on holiday, for the first time without my parents, and went into a pub. The atmosphere was terrible, and I had to leave within less than an hour, because my eyes began watering. Outside I noticed the terrible smell. However, I figured that the only way to beat these side-effects of smoking was to join the army of smokers. So I did. I bought a packet of Styles (posh me) and began puffing away like mad. I felt neither sick nor cool, but the reward came soon: on my next trip down the pub I found the smoke much easier to cope with once I had joined in. Maybe this sounds like a silly reason to start, but so do “I did it because my friends did”, “I did it because I was curious”, “I started because I wanted to be cool” or “I wanted to try it before I said I didn’t like it, but I did”, all of which are still common reasons for starting today. As a smoker, you soon forget the things that used to irk you about smoking: as a child I hated it when my mother smoked in the car, because it literally made me sick. I hated the smell of her clothes and of our lounge. She often did not join in various activities because of her cold or her bad leg (she suffers from ‘claudication’ – smoking related blocked arteries) or because she was out of breath. Kissing a smoker is NOT nice, no matter what people may tell you in their lust… I myself forgot about these issues and most people are too polite to mention them. When I leave the pub today, my clothes just rank of smoke, and I don’t smoke. It’s like deliberately rolling around in a big heap of ash. And still I won’t even mention to others that they smell of smoke, because it is not the done thing. Their fingers are stained and their teeth are yellow and their breath smells of smoke, and still, I don’t say a thing. Why? Simply, because it is not my business. It is a small matter that I accept because after all, it does not harm me or inconvenience me greatly. If I worked in a bar, then the smell of my clothes at the end of the day is no more annoying than if I worked at a chippy or similar. Let me tell you a story: In India, about 20 years ago, a new virus emerged, dubbed the ‘soft killer’. A genetic ‘fault’ inherent in a small percentage of people activated symptoms when in contact with that virus. The virus was hard to detect, chose its victims carefully, and did not kill instantly. Instead it stayed within their system and gradually caused various symptoms, such as limited respiratory input, pulmonary problems and vascular blockages, all of which often lead to a premature death. The reason the papers covered the story was because there was that guy who KNOWINGLY carried on working and socialising, thus putting many other people at risk. His local council wanted to ban him from it, but he claimed it was his right to carry on as normal, especially since the risk to other people was so small (since only a few people carried the genetic fault). By the time his case went before court, two more people had been infected. He then fell ill and the trial was halted. What do you think? Was he allowed to carry on working, travel, maybe work as a teacher at your children’s school? Or did they have a right to restrict his movements to certain locations? Well, as many of you may have guessed, this story is pure fiction (as far as I know). There was no such virus. But just for a minute, assume that this virus had existed. A man who knowingly puts other people at risk (not all of whom may actually contract it) in my opinion forfeits many other ri ghts. I do not propose restricting smokers’ movements, nor do I have any problems with cigarettes per se (as mentioned above). The act of smoking, however, equates somewhat to the man with the virus, and worse, often smokers do the equivalent of coughing at other people to deliberately put them at risk. If I work at a pub to feed my children and/or myself, do smokers have a right to put my health at risk? One way around it is to offer the job to people who are willing to take that risk. Maybe we should see the return of asbestos and offer the jobs of working with asbestos to a few people for adequate pay. I’m sure there will be some takers… What about non-smoking pub goers? If they don’t like the smoke, they shouldn’t go to the pub, right? First, landlords would quickly put up a ban themselves and second, most smokers are over 16 and are old enough not to resort to bullying tactics like “You can’t sit there, my invisible monkey sits there. Push off, or else…” I hope! A pub without smoke is like a fish without water? Well, first pubs will not die out for a lack of smoke, and second, fish evolved into land animals, didn’t they? We could separate a smoker’s pub from a non-smoker’s pub. Smokers would have to buy their drinks in the non-smoker’s pub and then return to their smoker’s part of the pub. Tobacco apartheid, as it were. Of course, the rooms would have to be separated completely, so as to ensure that no non-smoker is inconvenienced. Since this is a very expensive project to do (who would make sure there is no trouble in that part, if no staff are allowed in, for example?), and only about 30% of people smoke anyway, as a landlord I would forget about the smokers and concentrate on those 70% instead. On top of that, non-smokers are not affected by alcohol at the same rate as smokers, thus increasing profits and lowering the rate of incidents. Yes, if I w as a landlord, I would stick with the non-smokers too. And no-one seriously suggests that smokers will stop frequenting pubs en masse simply because they are not allowed to smoke anymore. After all, they go to the pub to meet with friends and drink alcohol, which they are still free to do. If it is legal to smoke, why should it be illegal to smoke in certain public places? Well, it is legal to throw knives for fun, but you can’t honestly suggest that we should allow that in public places. It is not the smoking that should be banned, but the smoking in public places where other people’s lives may be put at risk. Is it a good thing to rely on the state to make legal provisions, as they have done in Ireland? Not in my opinion, no. It would be a good thing if smokers showed some consideration to their fellow human beings and refrained from subjecting them to smoke. However, that is as likely as President Bush joining the pacifist ‘make love not war’ movement. So the law has to MAKE us. The only reason we need the government nanny-ing us if we cannot look after our own interests as a community. The Irish government obviously thinks that that was the case. From reports I have seen and read, most landlords and other people in the affected industries are in favour of it, or at least do not have a huge problem with it. After all, the legal provisions are there to protect people at their workplace. If smokers want to smoke outside, and they refrain from blowing the smoke directly into my face (as reaction to this opinion, for example), then so be it. Why do some smokers object then? Because they stubbornly refuse to listen. Many smokers (and here is the controversial part) know that their lives would be easier if they didn’t smoke: better fitness levels, better health, potentially a better life, better taste buds, potential dates with non-smokers who so far have been turned off by the smell, fewer sore throats, more mon ey available to spend, etc. Also, it is difficult to admit to being addicted to smoking, and to the fact that the hold smoking has on them is bigger than them. It sounds like they are not in control of their lives, etc. Basically, many smokers live in denial. Equally basically, I don’t care. If they do not want to give up, for whatever reasons, I can live with that. However, if they subject other people to the same health risks without even giving them a viable alternative, their denial and stubbornness does affect me too. And just like the imaginary virus man (no, not a superhero – reread this opinion) they need legal intervention to stop them from putting other people at risk. Did Ireland show progressive thinking in introducing the ban? Erm, no. I think it is up-to-date thinking and other countries, like the UK, is just miles – or decades – behind.
It’s all over television and the press: Norah Jones (daughter of Ravi Shankar, for those “in the know”) is THE new star. I am sure you will have heard/seen the ad for her debut album and you might now be a little intrigued. WHO IS THIS GIRL? Well, at just 23, she is no stranger to performing. She played her first gig on her 16th birthday at her local coffeehouse. While still in high school, she won awards for her composition and vocal skills. She then studied jazz piano at the University of North Texas. Back then she used to perform with a band called “Laszlo”. Afterwards she began singing with a band called “Wax Poetic”, then assembled her own group. In 2000, they recorded a selection of demos for Blue Note Records. These were released as an EP called “First Sessions”, but is now sadly out of print (and has now become somewhat of a collector’s item). Apparently some fans have started lobbying for a re-release, although most of the songs are actually on this current album. In 2001 she sang two songs on Charlie Hunter’s album “Songs from the Analog Playground” before finally beginning recording this current title in the same year, which was released in 2002. ANY CREDENTIALS? Apart from having had her own Tour, Norah and her band have performed at several festivals and venues. They have also opened a series of shows for the Indigo Girls, John Mayer, Willie Nelson and the Dave Matthews Band. WHAT IS THE MUSIC LIKE? Oh, that’s a difficult one. Imagine one of those smoky bars, with a very relaxed clientele and people drinking wine. There is Jazz, soul, a bit of country and folk, definitely some pop, erm, blues,… It’s very difficult to describe. She does have a brilliant voice. It’s very crisp but still breathy, very sexy and at the same time full of innocence. Some of the songs she wrote h erself (e.g., Come Away With Me), some she co-wrote (e.g. The Long Day is Over) and others she covers (e.g. Cold, Cold Heart – Hank Williams). THE SONGS: Most of them deal with love. Miss Jones herself said in an interview that some of them were written when she was younger (even younger?) and so have a certain childish naivety about them. Instead of sounding immature, however, they do have a certain charm about them. 1. DON’T KNOW WHY - deals with a lost chance. She regrets not having gone to meet her lover. The video is up for an MTV2 Music Award. 2. SEVEN YEARS – a very peaceful song about loneliness. 3. COLD COLD HEART - Hank Williams remake about someone who has been hurt before and now finds it difficult to trust again. 4. FEELIN’ THE SAME WAY – slightly faster pace than usual, with more optimistic lyrics. 5. COME AWAY WITH ME - Quite self-explanatory. This is definitely my favourite. Very child-like. 6. SHOOT THE MOON - about the inevitable end of an affair. A bit more country than usual. 7. TURN ME ON – still quite “country”. 8. LONESTAR – very reminiscent of Texas and, yes, you guessed it, country. 9. I’VE GOT TO SEE YOU AGAIN – the longest song on the album, with quite a dark atmosphere to it. The tiniest touch of Latin sounds. 10. PAINTER SONG – not the most memorable song. What would I do if I was a painter? Paris, here I come. 11. ONE FLIGHT DOWN – very romantic, oh, hang on, so are most of the songs. 12. NIGHTINGALE – blues? pop? There’s no need to decide, really. My second favourite! 13. THE LONG DAY IS OVER – perfect for relaxing. But then, so is the whole album. 14. THE NEARNESS OF YOU – very jazzy, in a slow kind of way. Lovely, slightly kitschy lyrics. WHEN SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? Some of you might already have bought some of those “mellow̶ 1; dance tunes that are so popular right now. “Come Away With Me” produces a similarly relaxed state, but is a bit more romantic. I love listening to it on a really hot day while having a cooling drink in my right hand and a good book on my lap. It is also perfect as “background” music, unless you need something with a bit more pace for doing the chores, for example. And, whilst I haven’t tried it, I am already looking forward to many cold nights snuggled up in a king-sized duvet, sipping hot chocolate and listening to Norah Jones’ graceful voice. SHOULD I BUY IT? Haven’t you paid any attention? Of course. There are a few albums everyone should own: Alanis Morissette, David Gray, maybe one Madonna album and one New Kids on The Block or Take That album (you know, one of those you don’t want to admit to owning). This is definitely the kind of album you should have. IS THERE NOTHING WRONG WITH IT? Well, that depends on your mood. It won’t really help getting you in the right mood for a Friday night out in a club. The songs are very slow, even the fast ones. Towards the end the songs become a little less memorable than gems such as “Come Away With Me”, but they are still pretty darn good. CONCLUSION Relaxed, smooth, mellow. Or, to keep it even shorter: Perfect.
When I first searched CQout.co.uk/CQout.com I was pleasantly surprised. My entire previous online auction experience had been based on ebay and QXL, probably the biggest providers. CQout is an essentially British website, but it does apply internationally, i.e. you get sellers from all over the world. Use of this website is very easy indeed. On the left you have a variety of categories, in which you will find everything, from Buffy merchandise to office equipment. A search box will make it even easier if you already know what you are looking for. “Today’s featured auction” is the “pick of the day”, although so far it hasn’t been anything that I have found interesting. The “help” tab at the top does exactly what it promises: it offers help on the following topics: Introduction (if you are new to the site), General, Selling and Buying. The Introduction and General categories give you information on the most basic subjects, like Terms and Conditions and your details (if you have joined them). If you want to buy or sell on this site (well, presumably that IS the reason you have visited an online auction website) you will need to register. If you also want to sell, they require your credit card details. That is so they can a) charge you a small amount (currently £1 for European customers) and b) verify your details for fraud prevention. Buying is as easy as it is on any other website. in a few simple steps you can bid or set your own bidding limit. Selling is surprisingly easy as well. It basically involves writing your own “ad” describing the item you would like to sell (either as normal text or in HTML – they even offer a quick HTML tutorial in case you are interested in using it for these purposes), adding the link to the photo of the item (which you would have added to your personal website account, if you have one) and that’s it. You can prev iew and then post it and wait for people to start bidding. CQout obviously want a percentage of any sale, but I think their rates are definitely within reason, i.e. around 5% of the total. If you have a lot to sell, they offer a “loyalty discount”, but that only applies to more than 100 sales. This feature therefore doesn’t really apply to the ordinary person (well, if I sold 100 items I owned I’d probably have to sit on the floor and eat off old newspapers). They also offer, for £2 extra, the “featured item” listing, which will enable your item to stand out (by making it bold and listing it first, etc.). Unless you chose a very crowded category I don’t think that that will be necessary. You can also set a reserve price, under which you don’t have to sell (although I find it a bit pointless, because you can set a minimum bid. I assume it’s to get the bidding going in the first place, but still…). They also offer Secure Pay with escrow service. The way it works is the following: You are buying/selling using a “middleman” who a) guarantees payment to the seller and b) doesn’t pay the seller until the goods have been received by the buyer, to protect the latter from fraudulent sales (i.e. where the item in question doesn’t actually exist). The buyer carries the extra cost, but I still think it’s worth it for items of a certain value. You can, of course, find out about the seller or buyer by checking their rating. Previous buyers/sellers will have rated their service, so you can imagine that if 20 people have rated a seller as good and reliable, chances are they really are just that. Of course, this method isn’t foolproof, since it should be quite easy to fraudulently increase your positive ratings if you ask your friends and “fix” a few sales. Also, it discriminates against new sellers/buyers who won’t have any ratings at all. The only other thing I should mention is that, although very user-friendly, your choice might not be as vast as it might be on other sites, such as ebay. On the other hand I have found that the things on offer are reasonably priced. I have also found a few rarities that I haven’t come across anywhere else. For those that have never used an online auction website: It is not only easy to use, but you do actually get things you can’t find anywhere else: Nintendo 64 games and controllers, very cheap books, collectibles that might not be sold anywhere else, autographs with Certificates of Authenticity, exercise equipment, etc. Sometimes these items are second-hand, at other times they are brand new. It really is worth checking them out if you are after a bargain.
The other day I excitedly opened a parcel I found outside my door when I got home after work. I was very excited when I saw it was a video of “Remember the Titans”. Not because I really wanted the film, (in fact I had never heard of it), but because I love videos and have hundreds of them at home (no exaggeration). Since I had never heard of it, I popped it into the VCR and made myself comfortable on the sofa. Since I hadn’t read the back of the video case in great detail, I didn’t have any expectations. I simply figured it was one of those Walt Disney films on American football. First of all they told us that it was a true story. I always dislike true stories, since they are usually quite boring, with unknown actors that are unknown for a reason, i.e. their lack of acting ability. But not here, oh no. One of the lead actors is Denzel Washington himself, no less. First, let me tell you about the film: 1971 is the first year in which Alexandria, Virginia’s T.C. Williams High School must admit black students when three colleges are integrated into one. To make matters more difficult, Herman Boone (Washington) is appointed new coach of the football team, called the Titans. Boone is a black man from North Carolina who is taking over the post from white coach Bill Yoast (Will Patton). This is especially shocking, because Yoast is a very well-liked and respected man. The rebellious attitude of his young white players helps him decide to remain on the team as assistant coach for the defense. With tensions running high, the white and black kids eager to play for the school football team are forced together on a training week in Gettysburg. On the school bus, Boone makes black players to sit next to white players and you can tell that it’s not going to be an easy ride. At camp, Boone goes even further. Each white player has to get to know a black player, and until they do, the practice regime is going to be extremely tough. While a few of them get on from the beginning, most find it difficult to adjust. After all, they are forced to act against their upbringing and their roots that hailed racial segregation as the world order. One night Boone makes them all go for a long run which ends up at Gettysburg cemetery. In a moving speech Boone manages to get his message across by reminding his proteges that this was the battle where black and white fought side by side. The players really started to bond after this little excursion. The focus starts to shift here to incorporate two storylines: That of Julius, a black kid, and Gerry, a white kid, who start form a very close bond, and that of Boone and his family (a wife and kids) and Yoast (a daughter who is as mad about football as he is). Back at college life looks different. People are on the streets protesting, Gerry’s girlfriend refuses to shake Julius’ hand and his mother doesn’t like the idea of her son hanging out with black kids. Things are almost back to what they were before the camp, when the players themselves decide to fight for the mutual respect they gained back at camp. They come up with a new “ritual” which involves dancing and singing in a menacing (and partly ridiculous) manner before a match. And wouldn’t you know it, they carry on winning. Boone and Yoast start to get on better on a personal level, with Boone even minding Yoast’s daughter. Unfortunately that is the night when someone throws a brick through Boone’s window, which frightens Yoast for his daughter’s sake, only to be told that this was only a taster of what life is like for Boone and his family. Yoast finds out that town officials want Boone to fail, so that they can get rid of him and they even resort to bribery in order to achieve that. Yoast objects, threatening a bribed umpire, with the result that a) the Titans win the game, b) Boone cannot be fired a nd c) Yoast loses all prospect of receiving his place in the “Hall of Fame” that he had been looking forward to. Since I don’t really want to spoil it for anyone who wants to see it, I will leave it at that as far as the plot goes. There is still quite a bit to look forward to, but by now you should have an idea of what it is about. As mentioned earlier, the story is actually based on a real story, but, as so often in Hollywood, the real story was slightly different. Here some examples: - Yoast actually had four children who lived with their mother. - The run to Gettysburg cemetery never happened, although they did take a guided tour at some point. - Based on previous integration measures, neither T.C. Williams nor Alexandria as a whole, were quite as segregated as it appears in the film, although racial tensions did exist to a certain degree. - The brick that was thrown through Boone’s window was actually a toilet filled with excrement in real life. All this makes the film more dramatic than it was in real life, but, despite being predictable at times, I did enjoy it a lot. Denzel Washington gives a fine, credible performance, as do most of the other actors. In fact, Ryan Hurst, who plays Gerry, delivered his lines very convincingly. There is plenty of humour to ensure that the tone of the internal and external struggles does not overpower the whole atmosphere of the film. Don’t let the prospect of “another film about American Football” deter you, because it really isn’t about that. It’s more about friendship and determination, so a real “feel good” movie. Pretentious and clichéd? Yes, at times. But powerful performances, an interesting storyline and smooth flow make this still one of the best films I have seen this year. P.S.: I do apologize for the truly boring title, but I originally wanted to call it Terrific Titans truly Thrash Rival Teams. Doesn't seem so bad now, does it?
Recipe for a conspiracy theory stew: 500 g EVENT A FEW FACTS (FOR THE MARINADE) 1 CULPRIT 1 COVER UP 200 ml REASONS FOR COVER UP, PREFERABLY DISTURBING ONES SEASONING: A DAB OF TRUE FACTS A PINCH OF FALSE FACTS GARNISH: CREDENTIALS DISTANCE --------------------------------------------------- First take the event and dissect it into thin slices. Big chunks are more difficult to swallow, but the finer the detail, he more likely it is that people will believe you. For added flavour we marinade it in some of the true and false facts. Example: The event: The outbreak of HIV/AIDS. The false facts: The United States were working on a secret biological weapon. When the virus accidentally infected one of the workers, she didn’t notice until much later. This is because at first the virus didn’t show any symptoms. The worker, only known as Julie, although nobody is sure if that is her real name, felt the pressures of working in such a secret environment and hence took her problems home to her family. Her husband, by now infected as well, filed for divorce and Julie went on the rebound. While not all their subsequent lovers caught the virus, a few of them did and passed it on quite quickly. Since nobody knew of this, it wasn’t until many years later that the first symptoms began to show. By then, quite a few people had caught it and some had even died. The virus was termed HIV and the condition that resulted is now known as AIDS. Julie has since died. Now it is important to clearly lay the blame. In the above example it was an accident by a worker, but the blame would without doubt go to the USA who developed and cultured it in the first place and did not even manage to impose security restrictions that controlled it. At this point it is very important to show that the culprit covered it up, the central ingredient of any conspiracy stew. In our example, the US gove rnment would refuse to alert the public to the dangers, since it has a clear policy of not informing its public as to its warfare secrets in general. It would deny any knowledge of a new supermissile carrier, so obviously they wouldn’t tell us about any biological weapons they had been developing in secret. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes while adding some further reasons: A reduction in the world’s population, especially by attacking young children and thereby preventing them from reproducing; deterrence for “gay behaviour”; it mainly affects “poor” people, thus easing the burden of expenditure at home and abroad; controlling poorer and opposing countries by controlling research into cures or vaccines, etc. All these go into the same pot to make up the base of the stew. After a further 20 minutes or so we add some seasoning, such as a dab of true facts and just a pinch of false ones. In our example the true facts are to do with the inherent characteristics of HIV and AIDS, the positive impact a reduction in the world population will have on the world’s economy and anything else you can think of. False facts have to be carefully planted, so as not overpower the general taste of the stew. They could include the “fact” that there is actually a vaccine available already which the government does not want to release to the public for the above reasons. Or that Julie herself did not die of the condition, but rather that she was killed because she was about to tell all. It is important not to go overboard, but this is certainly your chance to be creative. If by accident you added too much, simply add some real facts to balance out the flavour. Facts dazzle and confuse, and nobody will be able to separate the true facts from the false ones. Sprinkle with a few credentials, like an article in the “New Scientist” and the controversial claims by Prof. Smizcer, who was P rofessor at the well-known Department for Virology and Bacteriology in Salt Lake City, Utah, before he was fired under dubious circumstances. Finally distance yourself from the stew. Never write down the recipe, but leave it to others to pass on the “secret” recipe. Voila. Enjoy! P.S.: All of this is, of course, only an example of how a conspiracy stew could be prepared. Despite Prof. Smizcer’s unexpected loss of position I have to say that the mere suggestion that the USA could in any way, shape or form be to blame for this is, of course, pure speculation. I myself cannot find any evidence for it, although there are people that claim they can. The following posting might have similarities with other opinions in this category, but I would like to confirm that I am only using an example.
After having read some of the other stories I felt a bit "disappointed" by not having anything to offer a bit "more embarrassing" than my little stories. My embarrassment stems more from the frequency of incidences and the fact that it's not something I did, but rather something that "happened" to me. Recently a friend from home came to live with me for a while until she had found a job in London. I quite liked having her around and, sure enough, we talked about the ‘good old days’ at school. Nowadays the most embarrassing moments for me relate to drunken misbehaviour in public places, but hey, alcohol does that to everyone. My friend, however, reminded me of all the ‘funny’ things I used to get up to when I was still at school. So, one day, in RE, we were taking turns reading stories from the bible. We were, of course, not paying any attention, when my name was called and it was my turn. Trying hard not to giggle I stood up and, fingers clenching my book as if this could somehow relieve the pressure that was building up inside me, I began to read. I seem to remember that it was a harrowing story about some young man being in serious trouble. For some reason this made my friend laugh even more and, although she was trying to cover her mouth with her hand, the short but heavy breaths gave her away. I myself could feel the spasms torturing my middle region, building up like the lava in a vulcano, and just as I read out “and he was stoned to death” I burst into loud laughter. The sad thing was I couldn’t stop, and while the rest of the class was laughing, probably more at me than with me, my teacher, a fervent Christian, felt the need to punish me by giving me detention. My friend, the one whose fault it so clearly was, was never blamed by anyone except me. A few months later, I managed to top this incidence. We had a school meeting in our gym to discuss some – no doubt - serious school matter. We always had to take our shoes off before entering the hall, since normal street shoes apparently leave black marks all over the floor, especially when there is about 600 of you. They even had some designated “watchers” who ensured we took them off before entering the hall. My class, being amongst the most senior and therefore the most important personalities, had declared one of the thick mattresses our temporary seating area. At the end of the meeting, and despite all the regulations, we took our shoes to put them back on – inside the hall. So as I got up to grab my trainers (still very stylish as everyday wear in the 80ies), my friend was stretching halfway across the mattress in order to reach her shoes. I couldn’t possibly put on my shoes whilst standing (not being the fittest person and in desperate need of a diet), so I sat down on the mattress. Or rather I attempted to. Instead, in front of all our peers, I ended up sitting on my friend’s head. While, once again, everybody found that incidence hilarious – even years after we had left school I was teased – I was left feeling a bit of a klutz. Unfortunately these examples were only a small selection of my attempts to gain the title “ass of the year”. Oh yes, people loved having me at parties, knowing I would end up biting into candles that were shaped like apples or jumping on my classmate’s back, only to find out it was actually his father’s. At our school there was always one day a year where the kids were (grudgingly) allowed to do silly things to their teachers, like throwing water balloons or equally juvenile pranks. I was in charge of covering them in shaving foam before allowing them to enter the school, a position envied by everyone because by tradition it was regarded as the “one who gave them the rest”. I shook the can and, stretchi ng out my arm in the teacher’s direction, pressed the top as hard as I could. Before I knew it people were laughing at me again, because, in my eagerness, I hadn’t noticed that a) the nozzle was pointing in my direction, and b) I was pressing at the wrong point of the top which caused the thing to lock into its position, covering first me in foam and then the ground until the whole can was empty. In conclusion I would say that the most embarrassing moment of my life was probably my school time (a very long “moment”) and I would like to thank my friend for reminding me of all those things when my subconscious had tried to keep it hidden from me for years. I suppose that’s what friends are for…
Writing creatively is not particularly difficult. Just like most people I thought I could do it. But I didn’t even know how to start. All my short stories were too long-winded, my funny story lines ended up more bizarre and surreal than funny and my thrillers were as exciting as a teabag. At first I bought some books to help me out, but then I remembered that this is the 21st century and I searched the web. Here are a few things that helped me get where I am today: still trying to get the hang of writing opinions, but at least two of my short stories have been published (yay!). For those of you interested in writing I will give you a brief outline of the websites I have found most useful to me. Writers’ Village My first stop was www.writersvillage.com. You have to pay to join this site ($59 per year, plus registration fee, or pay per month), but if you enjoy writing it’s definitely worth it (in my humble opinion anyway). What do you get for your money? You can take any course you like. There is a one-off “Writing Boosters” class, where you are given one topic on which you have to write a short story. There are more intensive courses, running over several weeks, covering Point of View, Dialogue, World Building, etc. You can post your finished assignments on the message board. Feedback will be given by your peers, so it is only good manners to return the favour. The downside with this process is two-fold: For one, your peers might be more interested in getting their work commented on, so they will fob you off with niceties, expecting a detailed critique from you in return. The other problem is that your feedback is only as good as the people giving it. Still, it is a lot of fun and there are plenty of people genuinely interested in reading your stories and helping you where they can. Registration is easy, and getting started is even easier. All courses can be found under the section marked “Calendar” and if you want to enrol in one of the courses, go to “enrol” and tick the box with your course title, then send. It is literally this easy. If you’re not sure as to how to proceed from there, there is a special introductory course that will help you get acquainted with all the features. Then you can join in their forum, their live webchats and generally make friends with many like-minded people. They do not only offer fiction writing, but also cover comedy, poetry, non-fiction, business, etc. They also have a free monthly magazine with tips and tricks that help you on your way to writer’s stardom. A free character building workshop gives you an idea of how useful this site is. I have found many useful tips for creativity, inspiration, etc. F2K Related to the above site is “fiction.4-writers.com”. They offer a free course, F2K: Fiction Writing for the New Millennium, much along the same lines of “writersvillage.com” (they are sponsored by them, so that’s probably why). These courses cover most of the basic writing issues, such as point of view, dialogue, character building, etc. While extra course material is recommended, it is not strictly necessary. They also offer a free F2K-zine, which is good fun. I especially like the Word of the Week (WOW) feature, which introduces a new word every week and asks you to submit your 100-word-stories containing this word. The course itself is a very good introduction to “Writers’ Village” and should help you make up your mind. Even if you decide not to join “Writers’ Village”, it is still a very useful and fun course to do. The last feature of the F2K course I would like to mention is the mentor-led version. You are asked to pay a fee, but are offered advice by a volunteering mentor in return. This is on top of your usual peer-to-peer chats. This is nice because you know that the mentor is not trying to “fob you off”, but rather reads your pieces to offer genuine advice. On the other hand it is not really necessary, of course, and why spend money if you don’t have to? Interwebbed Another site I’ve found useful is www.interwebbed.com. This site offers several things: Free assignments that cover a variety of topics, ranging from spelling to commercial writing. You are asked to submit your entries, and a selection will be posted the following week. Again, this is free, so very useful. Another useful section is “questions and answers”. You send in your questions, they will answer them. Not just that, they will ask the community for suggestions as well and will post everything on their website. Similarly to the F2K course mentioned earlier on, they also offer Mentor-led Tutorials. These cost £22.50, but deal with a wide variety of subjects. There are 15 lessons in total. Unlike F2K the mentors are not volunteers but people who are paid to do their job. The courses are mainly e-mail based and usually consist of 3 things: A review of your previous assignment, explanation of the next topic and an assignment relating to it. They are really personal and friendly, so there is a good chance to learn something. All in all really good value I found. When you’re done with this course they offer an advanced course, which is shorter than the first, but focuses more on your weaknesses. Just like the other websites, they offer a few additional features that I won’t mention here. It’s worth looking into though. They, too, offer copywriting, poetry and other areas. The main difference between the three is the following: Writers’ Village is a huge site with lots of features, but is also the most expensive of the three. No mentors are available. F2K offers both, but is basically just one course and one e-zine . Interwebbed is a comparatively small site offering both, but with more variety than F2K, but much less than Writers' Village. There are, of course, more writing courses out there, but these are the best, low-cost to free, interactive courses I could find. You won’t need any courses, you could read books or simply make up your own practice assignments, but I find it helps to get a bit of independent advice now and again. *************************************** Quick update: Oh no, they have changed. They now seem to have joined with copywriting services, but, oh relief, the old community is still there. The only difference is that you have to enter that section first. The layout of the webpages is currently changing as well, but it didn't seem to have made any difference to the content.
THE CHANGES In light of the recent discussion and the reclassification of Cannabis from a class B to a class C drug I would like to clarify a few points here. The reclassification does NOT mean that the possession of Cannabis is now legal. Remember, it is still a drug. So what does this mean? It means that in the eye of the law it is as dangerous as anti-depressants or steroids. If you are caught in possession of a small amount it is unlikely that you will be charged, but rather let off with a caution. In fact the maximum penalty for possession has been reduced from 5 to 2 years. Again, ensure you fully understand that you are still breaking the law! Dealing in class C drugs will be punishable with a maximum sentence of 14 years, 9 years more than before. That also applies to social dealing, i.e. dealing amongst friends! Heavier penalties for dealing to children are still under review. These changes follow a trial in Lambeth, where it had the support of its residents. Without any increase in use, a great deal of police time had been saved, resulting in 19% more arrests for class A drug dealing. WHY THE CHANGE? There is an apparent drive to take the focus off the “ordinary and occasional” cannabis user in favour of tougher actions of those dealing with Cannabis or using it repeatedly or outside schools. A lot of police time is wasted trying to tackle the users. Now the impetus to tackle the source should have the same effect. The rationale behind this is less dealers = less cannabis = less users. There is a certain logic to this approach, although it will remain to be seen whether or not it will work. THE EFFECTS OF CANNABIS Cannabis is usually attributed with the following effects: relaxation, euphoria and feelings of introspection. But it can also produce negative effects, such as anxiety, panic, loss of concentration and a general feeling of apathy and lethargy. You probably know s omebody who uses it regularly and is known to be very laid-back, his or her catchphrase being “excellent!” or something to that effect. Cannabis might be to blame… It is also a known carcogenic (i.e. it may cause cancer) and can damage your lungs. While it does not produce a physical addiction, psychological dependence is quite common. Mixing it with alcohol can also have undesirable effects. Is it more dangerous than nicotine or alcohol? Probably not. But a very frequent misconception is that this means it must be harmless. Neither nicotine nor alcohol are harmless. They are drugs, and all drug use requires responsibility. GATEWAY DRUG? There is a general argument that the use of cannabis will or can lead to the use of harder drugs. While there are studies to this effect, there are also many studies that have found no basis for this argument. In fact, Mr. Blunkett himself did not believe there was a such a link. It is a fact that most people addicted to “harder” drugs and those taking ecstasy have taken cannabis at some point in their past. It is easier to come by than, say, heroin. Not everyone using cannabis will move on to harder drugs later on, though. However, there might be an argument to say that a lot of young people try out cannabis first, out of curiosity. Once this curiosity has been satisfied they are looking for new “challenges” and experiences. Would this behaviour change without Cannabis? Probably not. These people would probably start off with ecstasy or similar drugs, having the same result. SHOULD WE LEGALIZE IT? Definitely not. While it might not be a gateway drug, I like to think of it as a “buffer drug”. That means it has the function of being between “legal” and “dangerous and illegal”. I will now explain my objections: Those deterred by its illegal state might start using it, simply b ecause it is legal. Result: more users. Those taking it because it is illegal, i.e. as a sign of rebellion, might be tempted to move on to something that is illegal. Result: more users of dangerous drugs. Those taking it because they like it will carry on taking it. Result: no change. Those taking it only once, because they want to “see what it’s like” will not be prosecuted. Result: no change to reclassification to class C drug. There is an added danger of giving out the wrong message, i.e. cannabis is harmless which it clearly is not. It requires a responsible user and responsible use to minimize any risk. Those taking it because it is “cool” will probably start looking for another “cool” drug, one that isn’t “mainstream”. Result: higher usage of more dangerous drugs. IS THE NEW LAW ALL GOOD THEN? Well, that depends on whether you are a user yourself or not. “Ordinary” users are still acting illegally. Repeat offenders can still be charged and even sent to prison. If more dealers are caught and others drop out in view of the higher prison sentences there will be less supply, leading to higher prices. If the prices are higher, users might resort to crime to pay for their supply. It might also send out the message that “cannabis is ok”, which is clearly not the intention of the law. CONCLUSION The reclassification of cannabis will hopefully have a positive influence on the dealing of drugs, especially that of class A drugs. It will reduce the time spent on tackling the users in favour of arresting the suppliers, safeguards being made to protect children. It is a sensible step to take. “Ordinary” users will probably not be affected much by the changes. But it might have a positive effect on use of drugs of a different class. Legalisation would be one step too far. T he consequences would be unpredictable, but probably not positive. WHY DID I BOTHER WRITING THIS OPINION? I feel pretty strongly about this. I studied law at university, and being a student of any subject obviously brings you in contact with drugs. I have not seen any negative effects of using cannabis, but I am not naïve enough to believe that there aren’t any. In the very least frequent use makes you sleepy and you will end up struggling juggling studies, cannabis use and quality time with your friends. One usually has to give. I do not believe in a nanny state where your every move is regulated under the pretext of “protecting” you. But I do believe that those that find it difficult to make a distinction between right and wrong, e.g. kids, are protected. As you probably know, kids under a certain age cannot really be prosecuted and shouldn’t be, so the only sensible thing to do is to ensure that they can’t come in contact with it. The only way to do it is reducing its availability. You might be responsible enough to handle it. In fact it is not up to me to say whether you are allowed to take harder drugs (I differ from the law in this respect), but I do believe that those who cannot handle this responsibility should be protected.
Channel 5 offer Martial Law and Charmed. Channel 4 is the channel that brought us Frasier and Angel (albeit cut and edited beyond recognition). ITV – great. It has dramas like Inspector Morse and I loved Pop Idol. BBC2 – brilliant. I was simply fascinated by The Experiment. But BBC1? Simply the best? Until about 8 months ago I was still an ITV Digital subscriber and enjoyed the variety. Sky 1 does have the best series, doesn’t it? And with Channel 4 putting all the good stuff on E4 you feel left out without. I really used my subscription to the full. As soon as I got home I switched on the telly. And it would stay on until I went to bed. Eight months ago everything changed. I moved to a different area and although I was told I would be able to receive it at my new place, I wasn’t. I cancelled my subscription (and not too early as it turned out) and now have to rely on terrestrial TV. What a shock that was. No Friends (well, apart from Channel 4’s attempts to completely confuse us with old episodes in an order that only they understand!), no new episodes of Buffy or Angel, Andromeda, etc., etc. However, I was surprised to see myself acclimatise very quickly indeed. Mainly thanks to the BBC, and BBC1 in particular. In the past 8 months it has thrown out one good thing after another. The Blue Planet was simply amazing. The content was brilliant, the narration was superb and the images took my breath away. I was shocked and intrigued by killer whales playing with a poor seal to its death, and I still haven’t been able to get these pictures out of my head. Their programme “Weird Nature” was at times hilarious and at other times simply fascinating. It told us weird facts about ordinary and extraordinary creatures. I never used to enjoy documentaries this much, especially not nature ones. There is not just nature on BBC1. Everyone is familiar with Have I Got News For You – arguably the best show on telly. The humour and banter between Ian Hislop, Paul Merton and Angus Deayton are sufficient to make it superior to all the rest, and it seems to be the only show on telly where no one is afraid to say what they think. The recent introduction of Spooks has been well-worth the licence fee as well. It was heavily publicised, but it actually has a very high entertainment value. It shows us the going-ons of the MI5, but made watchable by plenty of human interaction. Apparently there was a minority that complained about the violence, but I cannot agree with that. It is shown after 9 o’clock, there was a warning and it certainly was not any more violent than the news. Eastenders picked up more awards at the recent Soap Awards than any other soap, and rightly so. Many people are disappointed with the likes of Steve, Melanie and Beppe leaving the show, but it shows that this is a soap that can survive on its own merits, without too many pretty faces needed to back it up. In short, as far as terrestrial television goes, BBC has turned out to be the best overall, with BBC1 having a slight edge over BBC2. I do agree that a lot of the money currently spent on hours of “artistic” but nevertheless unnecessary items, like people dancing, ought to be spent on the programmes themselves. I also believe that their own advertising is even more annoying than the ad breaks on ITV, and yet there is none better in terms of quality. In some other countries people very rarely watch the terrestrials. In fact I know of people in Germany that didn’t even bother setting up their telly to receive them. BBC programmes bought overseas are usually broadcast on their cable and satellite channels. So while I do admit to missing American programmes, it is nice to see that British programmes can compete with the best. Full marks.
UPDATE: 23/07/02 After having been unavailable for the past month or two, B&N university is now up and running again. The first courses start on 5 August, but enrollment is already possible. What are the changes? Well, the main change is that most of the courses are not free anymore (called “Premier Courses”). Most of the courses now cost around $70 and more. They promise you more instructor involvement this time though. Courses include Access, Excel, CSS, the Craft of Knitting (seriously!), Spanish for Beginners, etc. There are still free courses available though, including DHTML, Astrology, Writing for Children, etc. Hopefully they will soon offer more courses than those available now, because generally speaking I have found them quite good in the past. PREVIOUS: I really like this website. Ok, I don’t live in America and can’t really take advantage of their offers, right? Wrong. Firstly, they do offer international shipping, and bearing in mind it’s got a long way to go, it’s not actually that expensive. They do offer an extremely wide variety of subject-matters (and even have rare items or try to find them for you), offer you the chance to leave comments on books, give excellent information on their products etc. In this respect it doesn’t really differ from amazon.co.uk et al. that much, but that’s not really the reason I like this website. Apart from its Bookstore and magazine subscriptions, it also offers e-books which you can pay for via the Internet and download onto your computer. All the software necessary to read them is also available. There is actually quite a wide variety in this section, from fitness to business. My favourite, however, is the University section (“Online Courses”). It offers loads of courses, from Tarot for Beginners, Italian for Travellers to all sorts of Computer Courses. All you have to do i s register and enrol for the class(es) of your choice. And it’s free! Once you have enrolled, you will receive an e-mail informing you that the first lesson (and then all subsequent lessons) has been posted. If you then go to their site and log in, you will see, on the left-hand side, your Organizer with links for all your courses. If you follow that link, you will have 4 options: you can click on “Overview”, providing with, yes, you’ve guessed it, an overview of your chosen course, “Lessons”, giving you a brief description of all the lessons and a link to the relevant lessons, once they have been posted, “Classroom”, which is basically a message board, and finally “Materials”, providing you with the titles of the materials that “you will need”. That’s presumably how they make money from those courses, but surprisingly, you don’t actually need those materials. Of course, if you decided to go for their C++ programming course, having the relevant capabilities would be advisable, but generally speaking you don't have to buy their recommended materials. And you certainly don’t have to buy them there. The lessons themselves are, generally speaking, well-structured, well-explained and usually give you the opportunity to quickly check if you have understood everything, by providing a link at the end of the lesson, leading to an “assessment site” (Quiz). You also get to do “homework”, but again, only if you want to. You also have access to your own personal calendar and folder (for taking notes). You can find the relevant links in the left-hand margin. On the other hand, they are constantly looking for teachers, so if you have some knowledge you would like to share, just contact them. And don’t forget what it will look like on your CV! I am currently enrolled in three of their courses. On average, they cove r all the basics in about 5 to 7 weeks, but each weekly lesson being just about the right size to be learned within an hour or so. The practising will, of course, take as long as it takes or as long as you want it to take, but it seems just about right to me. If you are interested, just visit them at www.barnesandnoble.com. If you have any further questions, they also have an faq site. You can also contact them via e-mail, and they usually respond within 24 to 48 hours. Why not give it a go? You never know, you might learn something…
Huge range, prices are not extortionate and there's one near you (well, relatively speaking...). How about the customer service? How well I remember my first visit to PC World (Hounslow). I wanted to buy a computer (my very first one), and took a (male) friend along, because he was considering buying one as well. It took us a while to get served, and when someone finally came along, I was completely ignored. I had found a computer that sounded like it was right for me, but I was simply the female “tag-along”. Even when I interrupted to ask questions the sales person would continue to look at my friend and ignore me (at least I think he was ignoring me. Maybe he just fancied my friend???). My computer did not really have much in terms of software to offer, so I wasn’t quite sure which extras to get. I decided to go for the full Office 2000 suite, but the salesperson did not seem to care too much about that. Instead he tried to sell me more expensive software, and it took me ages to convince him that I knew what software I wanted. Games – well, that was a complete disaster. As “sales extras” in terms of games I was offered the Cosmopolitan make-over “game” first (cheers!), then nice little “soft” games. I was seriously waiting for him to suggest Barbie or something similar. I did go for a different one, in the end. My friend’s first offer was “Doom”. My friend then decided to purchase the same computer, so he went to get his own sales person. At the end, I’m sure it does not come as a bit surprise to you, he ended up with more “extras” than I. In the end it was more funny than depressing, and besides, I had driven (would you believe it, a woman driving a car…) a good 40 miles to get there, otherwise I would have considered going somewhere else. My second visit was regarding a computer table. Of course I took my friend along as well, for the fun element, really. They didn’t find it too difficult to sell me a computer table, I have to admit. Once I had made up my mind as to which one to get, however, he (not the same guy) turned around to my friend asking “is there anything else I can help you with?” We did have to laugh at that, which seemed to confuse him. Now, I’m not saying that all their sales people are like that, but I find it quite depressing that in the 21st century big companies ignore the fact that it’s not only men that encounter technology. I know what you are thinking, of course we know how to use washing machines and microwaves, but some of us have even managed to operate the odd VCR or switch on the telly. Apart from the gender issue the service was okay, although I found the after-sales service quite poor. When I had a problem with my computer, I was told to bring it in the same day, and when I did, they said they didn’t really have any time, so I had to come back a week later (and remember – it was 40 miles to get there). It wasn’t ready when they said it would be, and the quote they gave me also wasn’t quite accurate. The reason I would recommend them is simply one of choice, i.e. they do have a vast amount of computers and computer-related products, and you can probably find everything you need there. It is just the service that I am unhappy with. Ignoring your customers does not seem like a very good strategy to me.
Christmas – the time for family, friends, joy, and, of course, presents. Christmas carols everywhere, the familiar Christmas scent in the air, people smiling everywhere. Bells ringing, trees are alight with a warm Christmasy glow. Unless you have a heart of stone, you can’t help feeling all Christmasy yourself. Even those of us who can’t be with our loved ones or who are going through a difficult phase at the moment can’t help smiling at children’s faces displaying joy and anticipation. Christmas is big business, and rightly so. We live in a material world and we like to show our appreciation and love through money. Of course small gestures still count, but it’s because they are comparatively rare that they are so very special. We have to have Christmas crackers, mince pies, Christmas pud etc. Even if it’s only for sentimental reasons. Christmas ought to be special – that’s the message we get when we are young, and we keep passing on this message without really explaining why. Most of us know of the religious background, and although it is not the most important religious holiday, we embrace it. Even those of us who haven’t seen the inside of a church for months. Some of us do not believe in Christ, so from that point of view it shouldn’t be of any interest. However, it is difficult to escape the charm of Christmas, the smiling faces, and on top of that it’s a few days off work. It has evolved from being religious to being simply a time for peace and enjoyment. I can’t really see why anybody would change anything about this season. Well, of course, there’s the cost. I heard on the radio that on average we will spend more than £500 pounds each this year, mostly coming from our savings (or store or credit cards I imagine). I myself usually have 16 people to consider and try to limit my spending to £350, but what’s money when it comes to your lo ved ones? Oh, and then there’s the shopping I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, I could shop for England, but Christmas is also the time of busy shops and long queues. Obviously I want to find something special for my family, so I won’t even consider soap or toiletries. When I find something I think the person will really like I’m happy and keep smiling all day, but when you have to do marathon shopping for a whole weekend to try and get as many “great” presents as possible, all the fun quickly disappears. Mmmh, there is the stress as well. Things at work get all hectic, because all these things have to be done “before Christmas” (because that seems to be regarded as an international deadline for all the things we haven’t had time to do all year). At home, the house needs tidying, but nobody seems to have time to do it, the washing and ironing has to be done etc. and of course we would not like to miss out on any Christmas parties. And the calories – magazines are enjoying their best selling period because now we buy them because they tell us how to make the perfect Christmas turkey and the finest desserts, and a month later we buy them because they promise us ways of losing all those pounds that we probably wouldn’t have gained without them telling us how to. Of course it is the time of the year to visit the aunt that we have avoided talking to for a year (since last Christmas), sending cards to complete strangers (and hoping they’ve forgotten about us, because it gives us a feeling of being vindicated), and wishing everyone a “happy Christmas” just because you ought to. It’s like the “how are you” of the season, a meaningless statement really. And you know what? I don’t care. All year I complain about stress and the cost of things, but at Christmas I simply don’t care. I want to, but I don’t. I want to hat e the commercialisation, the meaninglessness of the traditions, but I can’t. I try to be cynical about it, but when nobody’s looking, up pops that grin again and I look like a six-year old. I hum annoying Christmasy tunes, eat biscuits that aren’t good for me and my new year’s resolution to save money will only affect me AFTER Christmas. What can I say? I’m a kid at heart…
I started smoking when I was 16. I went to a pub, couldn’t stand the smoke and felt sick, so my friend and I decided to give it a go. And it worked! Of course I had heard it wasn’t good for you, and when others told me it would be difficult to quit, I simply wasn’t paying attention or I thought I was an exception and would have no difficulties. My mother has been a smoker for most of her life as well, but I simply didn’t want to admit to her that I had been smoking, so I did it secretly. Or so I thought. I had about 3 cigarettes before going to sleep every night and I was honestly so naïve that I didn’t think she could smell the smoke in my room. Once she came into my room when I thought she was already asleep, and after having fought her way through the smoke (not without getting lost on the way), she only reminded me to reset my alarm clock. Not a word about the “evidence”. After that I had no worries smoking in front of her, which made life so much cheaper, because I would simply be nicking her fags. At university smoking was part of the culture. Most people seemed to do it and those that didn’t, never complained. I couldn’t even imagine going to the pub without smoking or even having a cup of tea without. When I finally got a job in London I never really smoked during the day, only at night, and I didn’t really miss it either. Then, one day I gave it up. There was no reason, I just figured “now is the time”. I did buy nicotine patches, but I only ever used two. At the same time I gave up caffeine as well and I quickly felt a lot better. After a while I could begin smelling cigarettes on other people’s clothes and hair, I could taste my food again etc. I quickly re-introduced caffeine. After a while I also found it too difficult to have a pint without a cigarette, so I began smoking again, this time limited to pubs in connection with pints only. When my mum visited me she began offering me cigarettes and I simply couldn’t say no. So I began smoking again, but I wasn’t too worried, since I didn’t seem to have any problems giving up. After a while I started to become interested in health matters and alternative medicine. I explored yoga, pilates etc. (not a convert, just interested) and all of a sudden I couldn’t really justify smoking anymore, so I quickly gave up again. At the same time I began to realize that I didn’t even enjoy alcohol as much, since I didn’t like the feeling of not being in control or doing or saying things that I regretted the next morning. This time round it was much harder than the first time. Even two months after I had given up I still felt addicted and had to consciously say “no” every time I got a whiff of a cigarette. The cravings only stopped after about 4 months, which were quite hard. It did help that I deliberately moved into a flat that was strictly non-smoking. I am still in no way a “non-smoker”, because the few times I do go out to the pub I find myself yearning for a fag after the second pint. I do regret it every morning, because my tongue feels furry, my throat hurts and all in all it is very unpleasant. Therefore it doesn’t seem difficult to say “no” when I’m sober. I think control is the key element here. I like being in control of my life, so I have no difficulties not to smoke or not to drink. But once I am in “university surroundings” (i.e. the pub or club) I usually follow other people’s example and after my first drink or two it’s too late – I need a cigarette. Even then I don’t enjoy it, but I still have to have one. I believe people that are in control of their lives will find it much easier to give up than those who are not that independent, but rather rely on groups of friends to provide ent ertainment, maybe still rely on their mother or significant other to do the household chores etc. I am pretty independent, but that is more by necessity than by choice, so I am always happy to give other people the lead which probably explains why I still give in now and again. Obviously I do enjoy the benefits of not smoking anymore. It’s cheaper, you can taste your food again, smell like a meadow, your clothes don’t need washing after having worn them for only 3 hours, and of course, let’s not forget, taking the Mickey out of those that still smoke. I also sometimes feel proud of having done it (or almost done it). Would I recommend it? Well, of course, but don’t even think of trying to give up unless you’re ready to take full responsibility. You will have to say “no” to well-meaning friends, the usual fag breaks with people at work will be torture unless you decide to become a social outcast. You will even begin to hear cigarettes calling you in every supermarket, newsagents or garage. You will find yourself inhaling other people’s smoke deliberately (disgusting, I know) and it is impossible to simply “forget” cigarettes. It’s like the old game where someone dares you not to think of a crocodile for the next ten seconds (impossible of course). I won’t ever be able to say “I will never become a smoker again”, because that requires willpower and the ability to be fully in control of your life all of the time, which is impossible. But at least I know that I probably have a longer life-span ahead of me than even two years ago (unless of course the proverbial bus runs me over before then).
At a time where money is everything and time is money, we are trying to cramp more and more into our lives. As a consequence, stress busters are a fashionable invaluable must-have or must-do. Yoga classes help you relax and tone up, Pilates is promising the same, there are meditation kits or the new Pzzizz system that will help you learn to relax. Business is booming. Herbal remedies, quick weight loss pills, long distance courses etc. have never before seen sales figures like now. The more stressful our lives get, the more we get into alternative medicine. Homeopathy, aromatherapy etc. are only a few examples of the sheer volume that’s on offer. We are hooked to promises of quick fixes. Do they work? Who cares, it’s worth a try. Everybody who knows a hectic life is trying desperately to magically turn it less hectic. Three cheaper options are firstly, make the time count. Don’t clog your day up with unnecessary things. Why go to the bank if you can use the Internet? Why go shopping for the perfect birthday present when the Internet can help you do it in half the time. Why call somebody if e-mail is so much quicker? That would give you more spare time, surely. The rest of the time can be spent with our friends to offload, with our families to tell them what a bad day we’ve had. But have you ever wondered how much more relaxing it is to go and have a chat with a sales assistant? Ever heard of retail therapy? They can make our lives so less stressful, because they give us the chance to talk about how we feel and even to simply engage in small talk. Random people don’t get involved in your lives, so feel free to tell them about your bad day, they will agree and 10 minutes later maybe not even remember it, but you have offloaded without any harm to your relationships with loved ones. Thirdly, a day is only as stressful as you make it. Even if you rush around, it is you who decides to lose control, because you concentrate fully on one task only. A sense of humour can help, a little chat here and there etc. They do not seem like time-saving measures, but if you start enjoying your job and your life again, you will quickly learn that you won’t need that much time to relax afterwards. Weekends will become stress-free and it will be so much easier to relax over 1 or two days. Holidays don’t have to be spent in Ibiza, but in the UK, with less hassle travelling and maybe even a bit cheaper. Obviously it takes time to learn to take such a stress-free approach to life, but yoga, Pilates, meditation etc. all take time as well, except they cost more. You have to constantly remind yourself not to take everything to heart but distance yourself from it. As an example, my screensaver says “smile!” and I try to be nice and friendly to everyone, no matter how much work I have, because that way I manage to reduce stress levels in my working environment a bit, which in turn benefits me (and people tend to invite you a lot and pay for your drinks…). Give it a go and make every minute count, even the hectic ones, and you’ll soon be a happier person. Does it work? Well, it’s worth a try, isn’t it?